Help! Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!

Dear Carrie

Help! We are in extra-curricular activities overload! What ideas do you have for evaluating our priorities and changing this?

Dear Carrie,

Now that we’ve discovered HOD, my endless quest for the perfect curriculum is over! Now God has been leading me to evaluate other areas. I’ve read some books that have challenged my thinking about how we’re using our non-academic hours. We’ve fallen into the trap of extra-curricular activities overload. We do soccer twice a week, ballet twice a week, piano lessons, music/singing twice a week, and a Friday morning history/science co-op. My kids have been asking to stay home more. I’m more tired and edgy than I’d like to be. Dad is wondering why we’re eating out too much. I’d love to hear if you’ve evaluated priorities in a similar way, what resources were helpful, and what overarching goals you have for your family. And if we stay home in the afternoons more often, what are some ideas for things to do?

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload,”

My husband and I read “The Socialization Trap,” and it totally changed the path upon which we were headed activity-wise with our family. At the time  we read that book, we were involved in everything there was to be involved with at church (i.e. nursery, teaching Children’s Church, teaching Sunday School, youth group leaders, church deacon and later elder, spiritual gift teachers, men’s groups, women’s group, VBS, etc.) and doing outside sports as well (i.e. t-ball, softball, soccer, swimming, etc.). With 3 sons (aged 9, 6, 3, and a child on the way), plus a family business, homeschooling, and my husband working a full-time job, we knew things needed to change.

My husband and I were on extra-curricular activities overload!

Both my husband and I had always been very active in everything. We were high school sweethearts who dearly loved playing sports and being involved in all things musical (i.e. marching band, jazz band, choir, swing choir, music competitions, plays and musicals, etc.). Likewise, we were involved with everything you could possibly be involved with at church from youth group to Sunday School to catechism to choir and so on. We carried that enthusiasm into college and then later into our married life.

Reading “The Socialization Trap” and talking to my oldest sister helped us make a change.

By the time we read “The Socialization Trap,” we were weary and running out of steam. My older sister cautioned us to really think before beginning certain activities (as once they are begun they are hard to stop, and also what you do for one child you will feel you need to do for another). This was timely advice for us, as we were seeing our nights being filled with sitting by various ball diamonds in different towns (headed toward not even being together as a family at these events, as our boys would all be in differing leagues due to their age spread). We were already glimpsing it that summer, as we had one on the verge of beginning a traveling baseball team at age 9, and the other just out of t-ball, with our next child headed into t-ball (not to mention soccer or swimming)!

Instead of extra-curricular activities overload, we chose family activities to do together.

So, we made a major life decision that summer that we would be done with organized sports and activities. Our oldest son balked a bit. Our next two sons never did. For us, the sense of relief was huge. Our summers became less busy immediately. My sister and her sons and our boys played at the park twice a week. We started having picnics and nature walks. The boys played catch in the backyard, played soccer, threw the football, made up their own rules and had a blast! We got a blow up pool for the backyard and the boys swam and swam in it every day.

Our sons had free time and developed lifelong hobbies.

They had free time and developed hobbies. They began to learn to work out their disagreements rather than arguing, because they knew they only had each other. I used to tell my boys that my sisters and I were somewhat alike and somewhat different. Yet, our arguments were usually short-lived, because when you grow up on a farm 4 miles from town as we did, you quickly realize that to stay mad at your only playmates is very dull. So, we usually made up quickly when we argued (and we still do today)!

Today, our sons love to play sports, watch movies, play games, and more!

Fast-forward to today! Our boys school in the morning, work in the late afternoons, and still get together with their cousins. They’ve never been involved in organized sports, but they dearly love to play soccer, catch, football, basketball, and kickball. They are outside every day, often even on work days, as for their breaks they hustle out to play a quick game of backyard soccer or football. They ride bikes, swim in the pool, play basketball at the gym and the park, build snow forts, have movie nights, and play board games at the local coffee house.

We enjoy being home, having free time, and pursuing hobbies.

We are home most days. Within our home, we all live, school, eat, work, and play. Really, we are together continually! The boys have learned to get along with each other (and with my husband and me), to enjoy being home, to look forward to daily home-cooked meals (which at times are less wonderful than others), and to covet their free time to pursue their hobbies.  My oldest son recently told me, “I love my life!” This did my heart such good, as I often have wondered whether we are choosing the right path.

Though our sons and nephews are very different, they are still best friends – from the oldest down to the youngest.

I share all this not to have you think that I believe this is the “one right way” to approach activities. Instead, I share it to show a different way. The blessings to reap from this type of path are that our boys enjoy playing sports just for the fun of it and with whatever number of people are able to play. They are all very different from one another, yet they are best friends from the oldest down to the youngest. Of course they still argue and have their differences, but they have learned how to resolve their differences and how to respect the differences among them.

Free time is viewed as a privilege, and overall our boys are happy.

Our oldest son holds a tremendous amount of influence in the lives of our younger kiddos. This makes him an incredible mentor. School holds a special importance, and routine is a part of their lives. Our kiddos never complain of boredom as they view free time as a privilege. They do not spend their days waiting to go to the next activity. Sometimes there are feelings of isolation. Sometimes the boys have wished they played organized sports or were involved in more things. Yet, overall our boys are happy. In looking back, the change we made was necessary for us. We could not have continued with all we do within our home without the shift in thinking.

Life without extra-curricular activities can still be joyful and full.

For those of you who feel you are in a similar place, I want to encourage you that life without organized activities is still joyful and full. I believe the Lord’s best looks different for each family, which is something my sisters and I discuss regularly. I know there is uncertainty with any choice, and I pray the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for all of us as we seek His path for our unique families.

Blessings,
Carrie

Spelling Help for a Struggling Speller in Bigger Hearts

 Dear Carrie

What should I do to help my son with spelling in the second half of Bigger Hearts?

Dear Carrie,

I am getting ready to start the second half of Bigger with my 8 1/2 yr old son. This will be his “3rd grade” year. He is still struggling with spelling, and therefore, does not write sentences yet. This is something I really want to work on before starting Preparing. I’ve not used the spelling lists in our Bigger manual. Instead, I used an outside spelling curriculum and just didn’t see much results. I wish I would have just done the spelling in Bigger! Now, I don’t know how to proceed. Should I start with the word lists in Bigger and go from there? Or, what do you think? I am open to suggestions!

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help My Son with Spelling”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son with Spelling,”

I’d definitely encourage you to follow the plans for spelling in Bigger the last half of the guide. I had a total mind shift in spelling when I read Charlotte Mason’s advice on the topic. Spelling in the early years is often quite tied to a child’s reading. This is because kiddos at the early stages of spelling are often sounding out their spelling words as they write them. So, in the early years, as your child’s reading progresses, his spelling will lag a bit behind that reading progress. That is not to say that in the long haul spelling and reading progress are always linked. That is not necessarily true, as spelling words get longer and harder.

Rather than more drill, regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill to develop.

Another thing to keep in mind is that for kiddos to whom spelling does not come naturally more drill is not really what they need. Regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill that truly needs to be developed in order for the mind to know whether a word that has been written is written correctly. This is the skill that is being developed in Beyond and Bigger. It is also one of the reasons why the other writing the child is doing during that season of learning is kept to copywork or copying from a correctly written model, because we don’t want the mind capturing the incorrect image.

To prevent the incorrect spelling of words beginning to “look right,” immediately erase incorrectly spelled words and copy the correct spelling instead.

Having a child inventively spell many words results in the incorrect spelling beginning to “look right” in the mind’s eye. So, to prevent this same thing from happening during spelling lessons, be sure to immediately erase any incorrectly spelled word and have the child copy the correct spelling over top of the erased word instead. Think of spelling time as mental training rather than seeking memorization of specific words. In that way, every error is an opportunity to swoop in and retrain the mind.

When an incorrect letter is written, erase it. Then, show the correct image written in black on the white index card.

Be vigilant as you do the Heart of Dakota spelling lessons. As soon as an incorrect letter is written in the spelling of a word, erase it away and redirect to the correct image (showing the index card with the correct spelling upon it). Be sure to use a dark colored marker on a white index card too when writing the spelling words (as directed in the guide), which helps the mind capture the image of the word even more clearly. Over time you will see continued progress.

Doing spelling words like this is so effective because dictation is this same mental imaging taken to the next level.

Dictation builds on the foundation of mental picturing that is practiced in the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger. It is where kiddos actually start to pay more attention to spelling in the context of sentences. It’s the moment where they realize spelling is about writing a string of words correctly. It is mental imaging taken to the next level. This is often where kiddos start doing a bit better in spelling, if they had a hard time in the word lists that they did before beginning dictation. This is because in dictation they are putting to use the mental imaging and beginning proofreading and auditory skills they practiced in Beyond and Bigger and are applying them.

Studied dictation skills transfer to proofreading written work well.

Through studied dictation kiddos learn to transfer the skills of capturing a correct mental image of a string of words, auditorily hearing the sentence and repeating it back correctly, writing the words in the correct sequence (including all punctuation and capitalization), and proofreading and correcting their work to make sure the right mental image remains (rather than the wrong one). Over time, these skills transfer to kiddos’ proofreading their own written work in other subjects. You can see this is all a part of spelling, but it is a process that takes years to internalize.

Instead of putting the focus on memorization, place the focus on writing correctly and proofreading carefully.

This is why I encourage you to keep on going, patiently guiding and diligently correcting. You will see progress as the years pass. Just make sure not to put the focus on word memorization! Rather, place the focus on the ultimate long-term goal of writing correctly and proofreading in daily work.

My own son who struggled with spelling has now shown much improvement.

My own third little guy struggled with the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger too. He improved as he headed into dictation, even though he is not natural speller. In CTC he really started to show some carryover and improvement in his daily written work. He has now learned to refer back to his reading material to copy the correct spelling of words within his written narrations. This is another moment where capturing the correct mental image of words (i.e. names and places) and transferring them to paper in written narrations comes in handy. I share this to encourage you that over time with these methods, even kiddos who struggle with spelling will make gains in the area where it really counts.

Blessings,

Carrie

DITHOR Lessons and Projects with Two Students in Different Levels

Dear Carrie

How does a DITHOR lesson and project look with two students in different levels?

Dear Carrie,

How does a DITHOR “lesson” look with two students in different levels? I’m trying to figure out how we do this when they’re reading different books. If my boys are in different levels (older reading 4/5 and younger reading 2/3), but we are studying the same genre, do I choose the same project for them? Thanks!

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Describe a DITHOR Lesson and Project for Two Students in Different Levels in Heart of Dakota

Dear “Ms. Please Describe a DITHOR Lesson and Project for Two Students in Different Levels,”

You can choose the same project for your two students if desired, or you can do different projects. I often let my boys choose from among the project options. Sometimes they choose to do the same project, and other times they choose to do a different project. I just have the planning meeting with them on the “first” project day, as laid out in the guide. Then, I typically break the task down for them, so they know what to do each day for 5 days. I keep the project time each day the same as a typical DITHOR lesson, so in that way the project does not take over our day.

I use the first day of our scheduled DITHOR time to map out the pages they’ll be reading and choose a kick-off.

One thing I do to keep DITHOR going well throughout the year, is on the first day during our scheduled DITHOR time, I just sit down with the kiddos and map out the pages they’ll be reading in their Student Books and also choose a kick-off. I count that as my first DITHOR day. Then, I put the guide away, and the next day we do the kick-off. As each day passes I just teach through the guide, one day at a time, and when I get to the project day, we just pick the project and map it out. Then, we put the guide away. The next day we begin the project.

I plan DITHOR right within my school day to avoid planning in the evenings.

This way, I don’t have to do planning at night ahead of time but can just sit down and do it when it comes up in my DITHOR time during the school day. If I need a bit of planning for DITHOR in which the kiddos aren’t needing to be present, I send them to do their next subject instead. It sometimes adds a few days to DITHOR to do it this way, but it keeps us going forward steadily and keeps me from having any planning to do in the evenings. It makes DITHOR fit right within the school day, and I’m never caught unprepared. DITHOR truly can be open-and-go, as long as you’ve chosen the books to read. But, if I do come across something I’m not ready for, I just stop and plan it then and there and then do it with the kiddos the next day.

My oldest two sons reaped the benefits of DITHOR in high school level literature.

My oldest two sons really reaped the benefits from DITHOR with a seamless transition to high school level literature. Their moral discernment far outweighs what I had book-wise when I was their age too! They actually choose to read classic novels and enjoy themselves in the process. Their love of reading was truly encouraged with DITHOR, and I am thankful daily for the discussions we had about literature in light of the Bible throughout their elementary and middle school years thanks to DITHOR. I hope you have a great start to DITHOR!

Blessings,
Carrie

Stay with Bigger or switch to Beyond for a struggling third grader?

Dear Carrie

Should I keep my third grader who is struggling with reading and writing in Bigger Hearts, or place him in Beyond instead?

Dear Carrie,

I’m a mother of 5. My oldest is doing Creation to Christ. The next two are going half-speed in Little Hearts. My 2 year keeps me hopping, but it is my 8 year old who’s struggling. We are 3 weeks into Bigger Hearts. He’s a struggling reader. He also struggles with writing. During copywork, he leaves out words, writes letters previously mastered incorrectly, copies wrong letters, or leaves letters out. It’s time-consuming for me to sit with him. He has to erase, correct, and it’s still sloppy! He’s not doing the cursive or poetry copywork. He struggles with the Bible verse copywork, the science copywork, and the vocabulary words and definitions. I’m also helping him write the science and history notebooking. Will he just grow into this, or should I have placed him in Beyond? He’s in third grade though, and I don’t want him to get further behind.

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help My Stuggling Third Grader”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Struggling Third Grader,”

Struggling in two of the 3R’s is a challenge when doing Bigger. In looking down the road, I would be concerned that even if he manages to get through Bigger, by the time he gets to Preparing on up, I worry that each year will feel like an overwhelming task for both you and your son. In looking at the fact that he isn’t doing the cursive or copywork of the poem right now, I am also assuming that you might not be getting to the written part of DITHR either? Or, perhaps your son is doing the Emerging Reader’s Set?

The copywork and reading assignments are important preparatory work to be successful in the next guide.

Honestly, the copywork and reading assignments are going to be very important right now. They will help him gain needed confidence and practice in his areas of difficulty. With the workload feeling too heavy in Bigger, it is likely that you will end up downsizing or skipping things that your son will actually need in order to be successful in the next guide.

I’d recommend shifting him down to Heart of Dakota‘s Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory.

So, my recommendation would be to shift him down to Beyond. Due to his age, I would keep Rod and Staff English 2 to do daily along with Beyond. I would make sure that he writes a small portion on paper each day for English to practice getting comfortable writing on paper. Since he’s on the upper end of the age range for Beyond, I would also be sure that he completes several lines of copywork of the poem from Beyond each day. He can strive to copy the entire poem by the end of the week.

I’d be sure to do either the Emerging Reader’s Set or DITHR each day.

Then, I would be sure to daily do the Emerging Reader’s Set (if that is where he is) or do DITHR. With DITHR, when you get there, you can do some writing for him at first. You can also write on a markerboard for him to copy on his paper later. Eventually, move toward having him do more of the writing in DITHR in preparation for Bigger.

Give your third grader the gift of time to mature into needed skills.

With boys, it is especially important to give them every chance to mature into the needed fine motor skills. I taught third grade for many years in the public school, and it was easy to tell which kiddos needed a bit more time to mature (and most often they were boys). So, give your little honey the gift of time to grow into needed skills. Don’t worry about adding to the science, as he will still get twice weekly science lessons in Beyond. Just worry about the 3R’s right now and gently ease him into those needed skills daily, along with all of the other excellent skills found within Beyond. Doing all of Beyond well, rather than randomly skipping things or downsizing within Bigger will help your son be more prepared for the next guide the following year.

Blessings,
Carrie

Pacing of the World History Literature Plans

Dear Carrie

Can you explain the pacing of the World History literature plans?
We’ve enjoyed using Heart of Dakota for many years, and we are looking ahead to World History. From the past year, I’m assuming students do written narrations for the literature plans. However, I am wondering how often written narrations are scheduled? Looking at the online sample week, I see it isn’t scheduled. So, I am guessing it isn’t weekly. Also, about how much literature reading is scheduled on average each day? I’m just thinking ahead to next year, and I’m trying to figure out if my son will be able to handle the reading pace. I think he will be up to a little more challenge, but I’m not sure how much of a challenge. Maybe I will have to slow the pace down, so it’s not so much each day. Then again, I’m always surprised at how much he grows each year in HOD. I may totally be overthinking this!
Sincerely,
“Ms. Please Explain the Pacing of the World History Literature Plans”
Dear “Ms. Please Explain the Pacing of the World History Literature Plans,”

We are enjoying the World History (WH) Literature box this year in our own home! I know it is hard to tell from the first week of plans online how the literature in the WH Guide is set up. This is simply because the first week is a training week for the varying components in the literature box. So, I’d be glad to explain the pacing. On Days 1, 3, and 4, I kept the pattern quite similar with the literature box broken up into “Introduce,” “Read and Annotate,” “Select,” and “Reflect.”

Days 1, 3, and 4:  Introduce, Read and Annotate, Select, and Reflect

“Introduce” gives a little background or something to watch for or think about in the day’s reading. “Read and Annotate” assigns pages to be read and expects the students to annotate as they read. Often one annotation is given to the kiddos to help them learn to annotate better and to key them into important nuances within the narrative. “Select” requires students to select a passage to copy in their Common Place Book. “Reflect” is a written Literature Journal style reflection based on the day’s reading with topics ranging from Biblical/life applications to literary themes/elements to character motives/descriptors to Scripture connections/Godly character traits, etc. There is quite a bit of flexibility built into the length of the students’ responses to the “Reflect” part of the plans.

Day 2: Oral or Written Narrations

On Day 2, I have students do either an oral narration or a written narration. I alternate these narration types by week, and I include some given topics from the reading on which to reflect as a part of the narration.

Plan about 45 minutes to 1 hour a day for Literature.

Typically, we plan for the Literature box to take students around 45 minutes to 1 hour a day. Of course, faster readers may be done sooner, and slower readers will take longer. Rod and Staff Grammar/Essentials in Writing alternate daily, taking an additional 30 minutes daily. Together these comprise the “English” credit and take about 1 hour 15 minutes (up to 1 hour 30 minutes) daily.

We worked to make the design and daily assignments of the literature plans meet college entrance requirements.

I planned the times for Literature in the World History guide to be similar to the times I’ve outlined above. Again, I realize variances in reading speed will effect the actual time literature takes daily. We have worked to make sure that the the design and daily assignments of our literature plans meet college preparatory requirements, encompass needed literary skills, include classic works that are worthy of being read, and challenge students appropriately for the high school level.

It helps to remember public school students’ time requirements.

When thinking how much time literature is taking daily in your high school student’s schedule, it helps to remember that students in the public school sector spend 50 minutes in literature class 5 days a week and often have additional reading in the evening. Many high school students also have a required summer reading list of classics, and they are expected to read “x” number of classics prior to school beginning. With these things in mind, along with the fact that students are doing school 4 days a week rather than 5 with Heart of Dakota, you can see how much time literature is expected to take daily from a typical high school perspective. Therefore, we try to keep these things in mind as we write.

I pray the literature plans may be a blessing to your family!

I pray that the literature in our high school guides may be a blessing to your family! It was very challenging and rewarding for me to write the literature portion of the World History guide’s plans, as it was a very time consuming type of reading/writing/planning. Yet, my son who is doing the WH guide this year says he really loves the literature part of his day, and I love the morals, values, thematic and Scriptural application, and just plain old great classics that this year of plans contains! So, happy reading to you and your son!

Blessings,
Carrie